The Easter sunshine has proved a little too fleeting; with the turning of days has come the chill wind and ‘too late’ snow showers that let us know winter appears to have unfinished business in these parts. There seems to be a collective longing for warmth this year, beyond the usual desire to shake off our hibernating, box set binging, overeating slumber. I have yet to shed the thermal layers and woolly hat, but I observe from my pebbly shelter, nestled beneath the intentionally placed boulders at the foot of the ever-eroding Triassic Mercia mudstone cliffs, that many of my fellow Devonians are to be found in shorts and t-shirts! This year we need to feel that warmth, the sun-kiss that tells us it’s OK to drop our shoulders slightly, the sun-kiss that relaxes our tense frowns as we position faces upward, to receive the yellow orbs rays. The lockdown life is a bizarre mix of hope and disappointment, that often appears to dangle the passing of time as something to be endured: if we can just get through this next bit…
Today, scanning the coastline for treasure- fossils to be precise, comes the inevitable musings (my brain finds it hard to be quiet) and reframing of how we view time.
As our Easter journey continues to a second Sunday, we hear a story where the disciple Thomas unwittingly takes centre stage through his perceived lack of faith (John 20: 19-31). I grew up with this tale of woe, often used as a pitiful example of how not to live “don’t be a doubting Thomas!” and I used to think- why? perhaps he was just a kinaesthetic learner- needing to be actively involved to process and understand; there must surely have been a lot of processing to do. When Jesus rose from the dead, he not only defeated death, but he also kind of messed with the whole space-time continuum! From the bottom of the cliffs on the Jurassic coast it is much easier to reimagine the scene 250 million years ago when I have a beautiful iron pyrite ammonite in my hand. Isn’t that the reason we come and search- aren’t we really looking for a deeper connection to our planet, our universe? For the most part we envision ourselves pegged out along the washing line of time in neat order that cannot be changed. At the resurrection we are presented with the facts that the wisdom of the earth already knew; God has more of a whirligig approach and acts outside of time; the physical limitations do not apply to her (evidenced in v 26 when Jesus appears on the other side of a locked door). In Thomas I see a genuine love and utter devotion to Jesus, indeed it was Thomas who rallied to accompany Jesus (John 11: 16 NRSV) into possible danger ‘Let us go also, that we may die with him’ when the other disciples retreated. He had not (and could not) forget the pain that his saviour had endured, and he wanted to know the provenance of the man that stood before him, for the pain is part of his story, our history, and the cradle of the whole of creation before the dawning of time.
This is one thing – yes, one thing you would want to get right.
This intermingling of our physical and spiritual selves requires of us a love and devotion that can balance faith in the creator and faith in the created *that includes us. As I take a break from my walk and sit down on the damp sand, my relationship with this place is immediately changed. I have become a part of the shifting landscape. I am grounded and connected- physically as I occupy my small patch of land and spiritually if I am willing to open my heart, and very soul to experience the divine. The Gospel of Thomas (non cananonical) puts it like this:
(3) Jesus said, “If those who lead you say to you, ‘See, the kingdom is in the sky,’ then the birds of the sky will precede you. If they say to you, ‘It is in the sea,’ then the fish will precede you. Rather, the kingdom is inside of you, and it is outside of you. When you come to know yourselves, then you will become known, and you will realize that it is you who are the [children] of the living father. But if you will not know yourselves, you dwell in poverty and it is you who are that poverty.” (translated by Thomas O. Lambdin)
I am in love with teaching number (3) for it encourages the stillness that I feel my spirit craving. Like Thomas I too want to truly see and be seen, so why does it feel so hard to shift my focus? The answer lies for me, in part, in my lack of attention to the interior life. I expend a whole heap of energy on my physical wellbeing, my practical jobs and how I will apply myself to the task(s) in hand, but I have yet to treat my spirituality with the same importance. Thomas again has some wisdom to share:
(89) Jesus said, “Why do you wash the outside of the cup? Do you not realize that he who made the inside is the same one who made the outside?”
Is that what I have been doing all along…
washing the outside of my cup?
At home I clean my silty hands and consider the remnants of the beach, the clay that has found its way under fingernails and rings, and I pray that this too might happen to my interior life – the life unseen and yet as vital and impactful as any physical embodiment of a person could be. I am slowly learning to love the physical me, with all her flaws and imperfections, but what about the spirit me, the girl who sings to the creator of a longing to embrace the hurt of the world? As a faith community we are in a season of change, but it is only by individual work and growth that we shall be able to truly embrace all that the spirit is asking of us. Below is the blessing that I wrote on this same stretch of coast for my ordination, and I pray it over us again this day:
You brought me
the low and heaving sky
to watch over me when I was flat-
unresponsive to your touch and care.
You brought me
the phosphorescent studded waters
to shield me when I was defenceless,
You brought me
nacreous ammonites, belemnites
and gold shimmer-rich iron pyrite
to feed me when I was hardly there.
You brought me
head down, hats-a-must winds
to shake me into knowing(ness)
of a love that can repair.
Your wisdom, she is beauty
your skies a cloak to wear,
light suffused in glory robes
always; you’ve been there.
We stand before you awed,
by rock-cliff and Devon air
red soil, gull call
you are the honey sweet ice-cream
we long to share.
Bless us now gathered,
as we face out to the world
bless our calling and giftings
to serve all peoples
with a robustness that speaks deep truth-
to your creations despair.
Bless our high hopes
for new songs from this earth
through ancient Oak rootedness-
let us adopt this pedunculate form,
this support of your spirit fruits
Oh sustainer and giver of life.
Bless the communities we serve
with a vision of your kingdom
where creativity is born
and joyous wonderment convict.
Compelling, rock solid God
nurture in us we pray
a desire to seek wisdom
and lead others to the egress of her knowledge.
And may the blessing of God, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit be upon us all, now, and forever more. Amen.